Friday, July 20, 2012

Revolving Door

Yesterday, to the shock of many in NatsTown, Mike Rizzo and the Nationals organization cut ties with (journeyman?) pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel to make room for rehabbed reliever Drew Storen. So much for the fantasy baseball benefit. The decision was not as easy one for the team, leaving a short bench with only Bernadina, DeRosa, Moore, and Leon. It was, however, the right decision; .228/.282/.411 isn't going to cut it for a first place team.

And one of many Rizzo and Co. are going to have to make in the next few weeks.

There are not one, not two, not three, but four players returning to the Nationals in the next month - nearly all of them will require a corresponding roster move (we will get there):
- Jayson Werth
- Chad Tracy
- Chien-Ming Wang
- Xavier Nady

In a perfect world, only two of these players would be returning to the big-league ballclub but, knowing Nats brass, they all will be returning to the expense of other players.

Let's go down the list, in order of expected arrival:

- Xavier Nady
His rehab stint ends on Friday and the Nationals need to make a decision on his future. In Major League action, Nady hit for a whopping .157/.211/.275 slash-line and so far in 9 games of rehab he has somehow done even worse with a .143/.171/.211*. With the emergence of Roger Bernadina as a quality pinch hitter as well as Tyler Moore's impressive rookie campaign, Nady should be sent his walking papers.

[Ed. Note - I didn't know it was possible to do worse than that...]

Prediction: DFA.

- Chad Tracy
Leader of the 2012 Nationals "Goon Squad", Chad Tracy single-handedly won several games during the first month-plus of the year. He is currently tied for 10th in Pinch Hits in MLB with 6 and his 7 RBI are still 1st in baseball. It is a no brainer that he will be sliding back onto the bench as soon as he is healthy.

Prediction: He takes the place of Ryan Mattheus (who has an option) and brings the team back to a normal 7-man bullpen instead of the current 8-man 'pen.

- Jayson Werth
In just 27 games at the start the 2012, Werth was well on the way to erase the bad memories of his 2011 season. He had a higher average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walk rate, and contact rate coupled with a lower strikeout rate - things were looking up until a diving catch derailed his season. I believe that Werth will be hitting 1st and 2nd in the lineup (depending on handedness of the pitcher), rotating with Bryce Harper.

Prediction: Tyler Moore will be sent back down to the minors to make room for Werth, specifically because of the option game.

- Chien-Ming Wang
The former Cy Young contender just doesn't have it anymore. The Nationals gave him a chance to return to his former glory but a 6.62 ERA, 2.264 WHIP, and .361 BAA just won't cut it for a team that is trying for its first ever postseason appearance. Move him to the 'pen? Nope. If anything, Wang was even worse coming out of the bullpen; posting a 10.50 ERA, 1.833 WHIP, and .423 BAA against in his 6 innings. It was worth the 3-year/$7.2 Million chance that Rizzo and Co. gave to him in attempt to see him return to his former glory, but not every gamble is going to pay off.

Prediction: Wang will be DFA'ed and probably won't pitch in the majors again in 2012 only to sign a minor-league deal in the winter with another club.

The 2012 Nationals team is in a place that this town hasn't seen before. A place where a player with 90 games started one year prior can be shown the door because he couldn't even cut it as the 5th outfielder on the current squad. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

What are your predictions for these upcoming roster moves? Sound off below!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Passive Aggression

Baseball, on the surface, is a passive sport. Waiting. For the pitch, for the play, for your team to lose or win or do something special. But underneath the platitudes and conventional wisdom, lies a game that requires aggression. And not just as an approach at the plate, or in the field.

Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond know this fact. They live it. Bryce Harper is, in the mind of passive baseball fans, brash and an anathema to the game they know. But to people who really watch the game, he is ideal; a heads up, put it all on the line player who will makes mistakes but also inspire his own team and simultaneously confuse and anger opponents. Ask Cole. Ask Ozzie. The kid is an emotional catalyst.

Ian Desmond seems to be the opposite. No national hype, no Sports Illustrated covers, no one targeting him. But he has become the hallmark of a hungry young team. Shortstop is a tough position (trust me, I play slow-pitch softball), equal parts leader, talent and emotional rock; not a position accustom to rash action or intensity. Desmond does not agree. Being aggressive, at the plate, on the bases or in the field has become his way. Swing, run, charge are his battle cry.

The two are no strangers to crazy expectations. Bryce was on the Sports Illustrated cover at age 16. Ian was heralded as the next Derek Jeter (the later claim was made by a less than unbiased observer and frequently mistaken GM). So what is it that captivated so called "baseball people" when it came to these two?

There in lies the difference between the 2012 Nats and all other incarnations. Aggression. The 2005 Nats, the only other team to even come close to contending, were happy doing just that, contending. The 2012 team is just getting started. Every player on the team is watching Bryce and Ian, and it is changing them. Every player's essence is starting to develop into a championship winning piece.

Winning. Its not easy, especially if you have never done it professionally. Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper will not tolerate anything less. Ryan Zimmerman is the best player on the Nationals. Mike Morse has the most power. Adam LaRoche has the best resume. Steve Strasburg has the most talent. Jayson Werth makes the most money. Bryce and Ian are the most important pieces on this team. Because they are young. Because they are aggressive. But just a little bit passive.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

5 Tool Player

Old football saying: If you have two starting quarterbacks, you don't have any.

Baseball is different. Baseball requires players. If you have 1 or 2 baseball skills, sorry, that is not good enough. Guys who can run, field and hit are worth millions of dollars a year.

Ben Zobrist is one of my favorite players in the league today. There are guys who play multiple positions in today's game, but few who play both outfield and infield. They are different disciplines, timing a ground ball's hops and making an accurate throw to first and reading a fly ball's slice or cut or knuckle are so different that it is rare for a player to master both at the major league level. Ben can do it. Steve Lombardozzi is on that path.

Ben has played most of the positions on the field over the last decade, but now he mainly occupies second base and right field. In the 2012 season, Steve Lombardozzi has played on both sides of the diamonds, fielding most of his time in left field and second base. The acceptance of this duty is wise for both the Nats, who create value, and Steve, who probably lengthens his career and increases the chances he will end up a coach, or even manager.

Steve Lombardozzi's dad was a major leaguer. He grew up in a baseball family. It's special club.

There are things valued by baseball people that aren't understood by people who don't love or appreciate baseball. They are the hardest things to learn about baseball and mark it's greatest players and appreciators. They are also all too rare in today's game, but there is hope.

Ben Zobrist and Steve Lombardozzi are the future. In the future, all MLB teams will have a guy (or 10 if I was a manager) that can play 3, 4, 5 positions, infield or outfield. A guy like Ben Zobrist or Steve Lombardozzi will be a difference maker for a manger and team. With Steve you can pinch hit for almost anyone in the line-up and expect him to move to a position with extreme competency.

The current Nats have a strategy that, I believe, will be slightly revolutionary. Steve Lombardozzi SS, becomes a LF, SS, 2B, 3B, CF. Tyler Moore becomes a 1B, LF, RF. Michael Morse is a 1B, RF, LF. I believe Ryan Zimmerman could play 7, or even 8 positions on the field (excluding pitcher, as his mechanics and control are always matters of debate). The organization's pieces are exposed to different positions and made to be more complete baseball players.

In Little League, your best player could play anywhere on the field. Why has that changed?

Steve Lombardozzi is in a position to impact the Nationals in a way Ben Zobrist has affected the Tampa Bay Rays. Given his background and training, Lombardozzi is capable of giving the Nats manager a huge degree of latitude in crafting a team, line-up and defensive strategy, while creating no offensive hole. He seems more than willing to play anywhere on the field if it means contributing to a winning major league franchise.

This is the tip of the sword. An organization based on athleticism, baseball knowledge and versatility is the new frontier of baseball. It is an inevitable evolution, from husky first basemen and unathletic catchers of the steroid era, to the quick minded and versatile players of today's game.

Mark it down, today. Steve Lombardozzi will be an important factor in the Nationals success in the future by A. providing an important player for the team and aptly playing many positions or B. being such a valuable trade piece that he returns to the Nats a special player.

Either way, smart, versatile players are on the way in. And it seems Mike Rizzo is smart enough to take advantage of it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Little Blue Pill

Yep. Another Wang joke.

I was pretty vocal on twitter and the podcast a few weeks ago was Ross Detwiler was unceremoniously removed from the Nats Starting Rotation after just a few mediocre starts. I felt that the hook was too short and that we were simply seeing a pitcher go through a slump - Davey Johnson felt differently.

Let's take a look at Ross's struggles leading up to his demotion - specifically his last three starts:
- May 14th vs San Diego - 5 IP. 7 H. 5 R. 4 ER. 3 K. 1 BB. 37 Game Score.
- May 19th vs Baltimore - 5 IP. 9 H. 6 R. 6 ER. 3 K. 1 BB. 27 Game Score.
- May 25th vs Atlanta - 4.1 IP. 5 H. 3 R. 3 ER. 5 K. 4 BB. 42 Game Score.

Not a great showing, but we should look a bit deeper than that.
- May 14th - 1st run scored on an error. 3rd run scored as Sandy Leon's leg bent in a horrible direction. 4th run scored, after a steal of 3rd on a just-entering-the-game catcher, on a sacrifice.
- May 19th - No excuses. Just not good.
- May 25th - Ross was pulled from the game after retiring 5 of the previous 7 batters. A double and a walk with a 3-run lead was apparently too much for Davey. And it should be noted that the very first pitch from Wang went for a 2-run double - both runs charged to Ross.

Alright - so by no means was Detwiler lights out, but he certainly wasn't as bad as the numbers seem to indicate. It should also be noted that at the time of his departure from the Nats Rotation Detwiler still had a sub-4.00 ERA; 3.88.

Now. On to Wang.

Chien-Ming Wang has now thrown three starts in the 2012 season. Let's take a look at how he has fared:
- May 30th vs Miami - 4 IP. 7 H. 4 R. 4 ER. 4 K. 3 BB. 33 Game Score.
- June 7th vs New York - 5.1 IP. 8 H. 2 R. 2 ER. 1 K. 3 BB. 42 Game Score.
- June 12th vs Toronto - 5 IP. 5 H. 2 R. 2 ER. 5 K. 5 BB. 51 Game Score.

Not very good either. Now, it seems to stand to reason that Wang is improving with each start - but 5 innings really isn't going to cut it. Initial indications are that both pitchers haven't been great as of late but...

Here is where we are really going to see their true colors...

Let's check out their stats for the year (as starters only):
Wang - 5.02 ERA. 6.40 FIP. 2.093 WHIP. .339 BAA. 0.91 SO/BB. -0.4 WAR.
Detwiler - 3.88 ERA. 3.57 FIP. 1.274 WHIP. .254 BAA. 2.40 SO/BB. 0.5 WAR.

Not only does Detwiler have better stats (by far) than Chien-Ming Wang, he is also younger, left-handed, and has a far higher upside than a 32 year-old recovering from major shoulder surgery.

Wang needs to be replaced by Detwiler, it is a no brainer.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Trade Reaction

Gio Gonzalez got an early Christmas present this previous year, as he was traded away from the middling Athletics to the up-and-coming Nationals just two days before the holiday. It was a landscape-shifting trade in the NL East as it gave the Nationals an All-Star caliber pitcher to match the Phenom (Strasburg) and Mr. Underrated (Zimmermann) - a force that would challenge the Phillies rotation for supremacy. In doing so, the Nationals gave up a hefty price, 4 of the Nationals top prospects, 2 of which appeared in the top 60 of Baseball America's Top 100 list. We've now reached the quarter pole of the 2012 season and it's time to check in on the performance of these 5 players.

Gio Gonzalez - MLB - Nationals
10 Starts. 7-1 Record. 2.04 ERA. 1.94 FIP. 0.94 WHIP. 11.53 K/9. 2.4 WAR.

What more can we say about this guy? Career bests in WHIP, K/9, ERA, BB/9, HR/9, and BAA. He is on pace for a 7.0+ WAR season. All concerns about his control issues have, so far, been unfounded. All concerns about how he is a different pitcher outside of Oakland have, so far, been unfounded. Barring a standard Nats injury, Gio is destined to be one of the Nats (several?) representatives to the All-Star Game.

Tom Milone - MLB - Athletics
10 Starts. 6-4 Record. 3.64 ERA. 4.19 FIP. 1.13 WHIP. 4.90 K/9. 0.7 WAR.

Milone was definitely a more polished pitcher than his colleague, Brad Peacock, but with far less upside. At the time of the trade he was certainly MLB-ready and his control is going to play very well in the Oakland Mausoleum... errr... Coliseum. So far this year he has seen his K-rates decrease and his BB-rates increase, not something you want to see from a pitcher in a pitcher-friendly ballpark in an AL division (see: DH).

Brad Peacock - AAA - Sacramento River Cats  
10 Starts. 6-2 Record. 4.91 ERA. 3.15 FIP. 1.45 WHIP. 8.35 K/9.

Peacock has a higher ceiling than Milone, but he was also a bit less polished - having only made 9 AAA starts in his career. As you can see by his FIP, his ERA is quite deceiving as opponents have a .353 BABIP against him. The only thing that is concerning about Peacock's performance is that his WHIP sits at a career high. Peacock will be joining the A's rotation soon.

Derek Norris - AAA - Sacramento River Cats
44 Games. .287/.324/.503. 11 2B. 7 HR. 32 RBI.

In a shocking turn of events, Derek Norris, upon moving to the Billy Beane "Moneyball" A's, has seemingly abandoned his OBP prowess to hit for more power. Not being an insider, I have no idea whether this is an organizational philosophy forced upon him to swing more or a personal decision. That being said, Norris currently possesses the lowest OBP of his career and the highest SLUG since A+ Potomac. I am curious to see how long the A's stick with Kurt Suzuki with his .204/.244/.260 slashline before they call up Norris to play everyday.

A.J. Cole - A+/A - Stockton Ports/Burlington Bees
Combined - 10 Starts. 1-7 Record. 7.16 ERA. 1.82 WHIP. 8.1 K/9

Wow. This has been a two months to forget for the young 20 year-old Floridian. Cole was hit-or-miss for the Hagerstown Suns last year but always seemed to flash the brilliance enough times to be the main piece of this trade (and the piece that Nats fans fear the most). He began the year in A+ Stockton and struggled so much he earned a demotion to A Burlington. Although Cole is very young I think that it is time to start worrying that he won't be able to put it together in the long run - he has a career ERA over 5, career WHIP over 1.4. The only saving grace is that he is still missing bats; 8.1 K/9 this year.

My initial impressions of this trade after a few months of action are that this is going to turn out to be a win-win trade - both teams are going to get exactly what they needed. The Nats got an All-Star pitcher to enhance their chances for success in 4 year window. The A's got some salary relief of an All-Star while stockpiling inexpensive quality players with upside - Cole having the most upside.

It's rare in this day to see a trade that works for both teams, and although it is incredibly early to judge this trade, it appears as though this could be one of those deals. It sure is working for the Nationals so far!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Closer Watch

The Nationals are now on their 4th string closer and no one has a clue who it actually will be.

Drew Storen is finally rehabbing after surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow. Brad Lidge is throwing a baseball and should begin a rehab assignment soon after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. And Henry Rodriguez came down with Daniel-Cabrera-itis and forgot how to throw a baseball.

Instead of going over just how bad the flamethrower has been over the past few weeks (minus a few fantastic performances), let's review the candidates for interim closer until Storen is healthy enough to return.

Tyler Clippard - The Frontrunner - 1 Career Save

He wants it. What a trooper this kid has been for the team, doing whatever they have asked when in reality the righty has coveted the closer's job for years now. According to comments the other day (h/t Kilgore) Clippard had this to say, "'I want it bad, I’ve been fighting for the opportunity for three years now. I feel like I’ve been over-stepped a few times along the way for the opportunity to get those saves, for whatever reason'". He has earned it.

His numbers as a reliever have been nothing short of staggering: 201 Games. .185 BAA. .599 OPS Against. 10.6 K/9. 1.063 WHIP. 2.57 ERA.

Ryan Mattheus - The Young Gun - 0 Career Saves

Oh wait. He is hurt. Just like everyone else. Nevermind...

Sean Burnett - The Lefty - 10 Career Saves

When Henry Rodriguez has failed in the past week Burnett has been there to pick him up in spectacular fashion. The first time he came in the bases were loaded after Henry Rodriguez chose to walk them loaded and, with one out, Burnett only needed one batter to get the job done. A double play later and the Nationals were 8-5 winners. Last night, Rodriguez's leash was much shorter - as Burnett started warming immediately after the first batter was walked. Burnett actually entered the game mid-at-bat. He got the job done yet again with a fly out and a line out. 

Burnett has been there when the team has needed him and he could very easily slot into that 9th inning role.

Craig Stammen - The Underdog - 0 Career Saves

If you listen to Nats Talk on the Go (Available on iTunes!) you know that Joe and I are huge fans of Craig Stammen. Like Clippard, Stammen is a player that failed as a starter and was successfully turned into a fantastic reliever with some incredible reliever splits.

40 Games. .231 BAA. .622 OPS Against. 9.9 K/9. 1.183 WHIP. 2.93 ERA.

He is sporting even better numbers this season (his first as a full-time reliever) - .200 BAA. .517 OPS Against. 9.7 K/9. .920 WHIP. 1.44 ERA.

He is definitely capable of filling in with a bit more consistency.

Ultimately it's wise that the Nationals use a "Closer-by-Committee" instead of naming a new closer. Brad Lidge will slide in the role as "Interim Closer" when he returns from his injury, but for now the Nationals are making the right call going with an all-hands-on-deck approach. It will help keep the competition on their toes. Though if you ask me, Clippard.

Who would you pick for the Nationals closer? The comments section awaits!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 19

In this week's podcast, we talk about Bryce Harper's defensive struggles and offensive success. The Nats pitching has still been great, and we talk about that in some detail, and of course, we discuss injuries. We go over the Ross Detwiler vs. Chien-Ming Wang debate, suck up to Steve Lombardozzi a bit more, and talk about how awesome it is that Ian Desmond is batting fifth. There's a lot more fun in this hour plus podcast, so tune in and enjoy.

Subscribe and rate us on iTunes, stream it below, or download it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Missing Pieces

Breaking News: The Nats have some injured players. Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Drew Storen, Brad Lidge, Chien-Ming Wang all missing in action. For previous Nats teams, the season would be over, but the current Nats, lets call them Nats 2.0: the Natitude Edition, have the tools to succeed in this almost worst case scenario. Why? Lets break it down:

Michael Morse, Jayson Werth: Undoubtedly, the Nats need Morse and Werth to contend, they are keystone pieces that cannot be replaced. But not only are they missing the production, Bryce Harper's development may well be stunted. Just two weeks into his MLB career, he needs serious protection in the line-up. It took opposing pitchers all of a week to stop pitching to him. He is fed a steady diet of out pitches and has expanded his zone in a press to produce. Not ideal. A line-up that includes Zimmerman, Morse, LaRoche and Werth is a much friendlier place for Harper to develop his approach as a major league player. (Unless he somehow figures out how to devour a steady diet of breaking pitches, in which case he is some sort of Ted Williams/Ken Griffey Jr. cyborg)

Wilson Ramos: Love Wilson Ramos. But over the first month of the season, coupled with Henry Rodriguez fragile psyche, have shown Ramos to be sub-par defensively. His ability to block balls in the dirt is not developed and that is not a calming influence on a young staff. Jesus Flores can play major league baseball. He showed already this weekend he is a better backstop (At one point during Sunday's disaster of a ninth inning Dave Jagler pointed out that one of HRod's 54 foot fastballs would have been at the backstop if Wilson Ramos were catching). I don't believe the offensive drop-off will be that steep, and in fact if you remember Jesus first season as a back stop, he was clutch at the plate, delivering a number of important hits with runners in scoring position.

Chien-Ming Wang: The Wang/Lannan/Detwiler problem has turned out in the best possible way for the Nats development. The talent prospect has realized much of his potential and seized a spot in the rotation. Wang can take his time rehabbing and if he shows he is healthy he may draw interest from other teams in need of a starter and willing to take a flyer based on low salary and the potential return. John Lannan should always occupy a spot in Nats fans' hearts, but he has never had the talent to carry a staff or be a consistent contributor to a major league rotation. Nick Cafardo suggested today that teams may be more interested in Wang than Lannan, and at this point, the potential Wang beats the lackluster Lannan. Plus, I don't know if you heard, but the Nats have a problem with injuries, so a surplus of arms, might not be a bad thing.

Drew Storen, Brad Lidge: It should be clear to almost everyone after Sunday that Henry Rodriguez does not have the mental make-up to be a closer. And to be fair, that is not what anyone had in mind when this team was built. Drew Storen is looking pretty important these days isn't he? And wouldn't it have been nice to give Henry a night off Sunday and throw Brad Lidge out there with a three-run lead. You think Lidge walks anyone with a three run lead? The bullpen right now is a problem. A closer by committee? Open tryouts? Throw darts at a roster? This much is clear: I would be more comfortable with Rick Ankiel closing games than Henry Rodriguez.

Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler will keep this team in games through 6 or 7 innings almost every night. Players are going to ebb and flow offensively. Someone or someones may figure out how to close out a game. The Nats will get through these injuries with a record somewhere close to .500. At that point, imagine what the full team Mike Rizzo has assembled can do...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

All Quiet in NatsTown

Well the Nats took two of three against the rival Phillies in what was an utterly emotionless series, devoid of anything at all newsworthy...


Where do I begin?

Do we start with the fact that out of Cole Hamels, Mike Rizzo, and Bryce Harper the most mature and adult involved was the 19 year-old? 

Or do we start with the fact that Jayson Werth, who has been the Nats 2nd most valuable hitter, is now out for AT LEAST 3 months with a broken wrist?

How about that he will be replaced by a platoon that registers a -1.1 WAR? 

What about Gio Gonzalez and his absolutely filthy home numbers?

Well, let's just hit some of the big points with some commentary thrown in.

- The Nationals had an impressive Take Back the Park series that did exactly what Andrew Feffer and Mike Rizzo wanted; solid attendance numbers with the majority rocking the Curly W. Natitude Park was taking it a bit far but I appreciate the effort.

- Cole Hamels is an idiot. Everyone in the world knows that he threw at Harper and most people could easily figure out why - but you don't have to say it. Zimmermann threw at him but said it was an "accident" = no fine or suspension. It's not the manly move to leave your team hanging even if it does fit nicely into the teams projected rotation.

- After going 16-9 with one of the worst offenses in the National League, the Nationals busted out with 29 hits in the first two games of the series and added 8 more in the 3rd game. Finally, the Nationals are only the 5th worst hitting team and have only the 3rd fewest runs in the league. #FireRickEckstein

- The injury bug has bitten again, this time to the $126 MIllion Dollar Man - Jayson Werth. Thankfully it was only a break without any ligament damage. Werth has been keeping the offense somewhat competent this season but now Davey is going to have to hope that LaRoche and Zimmerman can come back from their respective injuries and put up some quality numbers.

- Instead of playing Tyler Moore (who has 62 bombs in the past two seasons), Davey Johnson has announced that he will be employing a platoon of Xavier Nady and Roger Bernadina in Left Field. I don't think there is enough ink on the internet for me to explain how many different ways this is a stupid idea - not the least of which is that Xavier Nady has the 2nd worst WAR in all of baseball without even having enough ABs to officially qualify!!!

- Just a friendly reminder - Xavier Nady is hitting .119/.186/.348 this season...

- Why did the Nationals try Lombardozzi in Left Field in Spring Training? I guess his .305/.379/.356 and 0.2 WAR isn't better than Nady and Bernadina...

- #DFANady

- Bryce Harper is 19 years-old, has only played in 8 games, and already has a 0.6 WAR which is good for 4th best on the team (hitters). He has 8 hits in 8 games, 5 of which are for extra bases - oh, by the way, Nady has 7 hits in 20 games. Even more impressive than his .308 batting average is his .434 OBP - showing that his batting eye is incredibly advanced for such a young player.

- Bryce Harper is here to stay.

- Gio Gonzalez has the highest WAR of any NL pitcher at a 1.5... in just 6 games. For those of you scoring at home, that averages out to a 30 game season as a 9.0 WAR...

- Nat-Gio's home split? 3 Games. 2-0 Record. 0.43 ERA. 21.0 IP. 8 H. 1 R. 1 ER. 22 K. 3 BB. 0.524 WHIP. 

- There are 12 NL Starters with a sub-1.00 WHIP - 4 of them are Nationals; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Detwiler, and Zimmermann.

- The Nationals have a pretty friendly next two weeks with 5 games against the Pirates (12-16), 3 against the Reds (14-13), 2 against the Padres (9-20), and 3 against the Orioles (19-10).

Well, CapBallers, what observations do you have? 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How Rick Ankiel Will Save The Nats

The Arm. The Freak. Ank the Tank. Rick Ankiel's defensive prowess is an exciting part of the Washington Nationals, capable of producing a highlight at almost any point in the game. But it is his all around make up that could prove most valuable to the Nats.

Disclaimer: I fully acknowledge Rick Ankiel is not Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman or even Jayson Werth.

There is nothing ordinary about Rick Ankiel, his story, his tool set or his current situation. Still developing as an outfielder and hitter, he is in a unique place to help the Nats. Absent serious run producers and not wanting to rush Bryce Harper's development, Ankiel's defense, mixed with his flashes of power give the Nats an out.

I'm sure the Nats thought Rick would be a nice insurance policy when they signed him to a minor league deal this spring. A left-handed bat on the bench, a late inning replacement for Morse or Bernie. There aren't many defensive replacements who can post a slugging percentage over .400 for a career (he is at .426 for the current season). Outside of Adam LaRoche, Ankiel has the highest slugging percentage on the Nats.

The current outfield of Ank, Harper and Werth could very well be the plan for quite a while. As has been detailed here previously, injuries on the Nats tend to persist, so the idea that Michael Morse will be arrive back on time is almost naive. Would this really be a bad thing? Of course we could use Morse's bat, but the combination of power, speed and defense those three provide would be formidable.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 18

In this week's episode of Nats Talk On The Go, Joe and Craig talk about the Washington Nationals' April and all of the positives and negatives that came along with it. We talk in detail about Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore's debuts, Danny Espinosa's ridiculously awful season at the dish so far, and then end by talking about the awesome pitching rotation once again. This will be the last episode of Nats Talk On The Go until May 14, so give it a listen!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Not-So-Great Expectations

This offseason sprang hope for fans of the Curly W. Moves were made to make the Nationals pitching staff one of the best in baseball, from starters to relievers. Rookies and young players now had yet another year of experience under their belts. Things were looking way up for this ballclub. The boys were ready to shock the world. Through the first month of the season there is absolutely no question that they have done just that.

Prior to a 4-game losing streak (1 against the Padres and 3 against the Dodgers), the Nationals were the talk of baseball and one of the best teams in the league.

Things, however, haven't been as rosy since the Nationals were 14-4 just 4 games ago. There is really only one reason for that, though it goes a bit deeper than simply the one issue - of course I am referring to the Nationals seemingly abysmal offense.

The pitching staff can allow 1 or 2 runs over the course of a week's worth of games is fantastic, but when the offense can't scratch together 2 or 3 runs to steal the ballgame is where the Nats are running into trouble. In the last 11 games (in which the Nats are 6-5), the Nationals have scored more than 3 runs only twice and won only one of those games. Their total runs scored over those games? 29 runs - or 2.6 runs/game. Any team would struggle to win ballgames when the offense just can't drive in runs.

We know the offense is bad (and that Rick Eckstein deserves to be fired), but the reason why it has been so bad is because of the sheer volume of injuries. We talked about it last week in this post and it has exacerbated since with Ryan Zimmerman actually going to the DL (when he was day-to-day and was expecting to play two days later) and then Mark DeRosa going to the DL with a mysterious Oblique injury. More injuries to some key players is going to negatively affect the offense all the time but with Morse already down? It's just salt in the wound.

To get a sense of how drastic things have gotten for the Nationals I dug back into the Capitol Baseball archive and found this gem from February of this year which included my prediction of the Nats lineup. It went as follows:
Ian Desmond - 6
Jayson Werth - 9
Ryan Zimmerman - 5
Adam LaRoche - 3 (yep, I was ahead of the curve)
Michael Morse - 7
Rick Ankiel - 8
Danny Espinosa - 4
Wilson Ramos - 2

Now for comparison's sake, let's take a look at yesterday afternoon's lineup:
Ian Desmond - 6 (4 for his last 44)
Stephen Lombardozzi - 5 (1 for his last 17)
Danny Espinosa - 4 (Yes, that is a guy with a .213/.308/.280 slashline hitting 3rd)
Adam LaRoche - 3 (Nats MVP thus far)
Xavier Nady - 9 (The Nats 6 hitter has a .140/.173/.220 slashline and a -0.7 WAR which is the worst in the National League) [Oh, by the way, he didn't have a job before two weeks before the season cause he is so bad but he is now starting every game for the Nationals]
Tyler Moore - 7 (Just called up)
Bryce Harper - 8 (19 years old and has a better eye than probably anyone on the team)
Jesus Flores - 2 (Backup Catcher)

Honestly. I'm not kidding at all when I say this. This is a AAA baseball team with Adam LaRoche rehabbing an injury. Are any of these players good enough or ready to be on a major league roster right now?

The answer is no.

How many players did I get right? 2. With a 3rd that is still in the lineup. Werth - out. Zim - out. Morse - out. Ank - not in the lineup. Ramos - struggling. Espinosa hitting 3rd???

Strasburg can lead the NL in WAR all he wants, but if the Nationals are putting out a AAA lineup it isn't going to matter. He can throw a 10 inning No-Hitter but if he can't get any run support it really isn't going to matter.

Thing's aren't going to get any better until the team gets Morse and Zimmerman back healthy. Then, and only then, can we all witness what the Nationals are truly capable of. But for now, hope that the Nats can scratch out two runs before the other team does.

It will get better. It really will. Keep the faith.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Live Chat: Bryce Harper's MLB Debut with Nats Talk On The Go

Today is the biggest day for the Washington Nationals since Stephen Strasburg made his MLB debut on June 8, 2010. Baseball's top prospect, Bryce Harper, will debut in left field for the Nats tonight against Chad Billingsley and the Los Angeles Dodgers. To make it even better, Strasburg will start for the Nats tonight, too. It's going to be a DC baseball extravaganza, and we're going to cover it all live.

The game starts at 9:10 pm EDT, and the guys from the podcast Nats Talk On The Go will hop on with you about a half hour before that to start fielding your questions and chat with you about Harper, Strasburg, and everything Nats. Join us for some fun.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Sky Is Falling

The Nationals history with injuries is brutal. I know it. You know it. Hopefully one day Lee Kuntz and his staff can know it too. If you are a listener to Nats Talk on the Go, you have heard Joe and I harp time and time again on the Nationals incredible proclivity for injuries. And now it seems as if the Nationals are bitten yet again by the injury bug.

So far this offseason/Spring we have seen a myriad of debilitating injuries that have been completely mis-managed:

- Sammy Solis: According to reports, Solis reported that he was feeling elbow pain near the end of his Arizona Fall League stint but it was decided by doctors that he would be fine with a "special throwing program". Later in the Winter it was announced that he was "doing well" in his recovery from elbow pain. Fast forward to Spring Training, after his first bullpen session it was discovered that he did indeed tear his UCL and needed Tommy John Surgery.

- Michael Morse: In early March Morse strained his Right Lat Muscle and was immediately listed as day-to-day - meaning that he might be ready soon. Not so much. When Morse was finally ready to start playing again, he actually wasn't and immediately re-injured his Lat. Rizzo himself admitted that "we tried to get him ready as quick as we could". Now the slugger and heart of the lineup is in the middle of a six-week no-baseball-activity shutdown.

- Drew Storen: This Spring, Drew Storen was pitching incredibly well until a bout of elbow injury hit him pretty good. Immediately after the soreness Nationals doctors decided that it was simply inflammation and prescribed rest for the closer. Once again, the Nationals training staff thought he was ready so they had him pitch on a mound. Days later, Storen was under the knife to remove bone chips in the fireballer's elbow. How a professional training staff can miss bone chips floating in an elbow baffles my mind.

- Ryan Zimmerman: What is there to say. The Nationals Face of the Franchise was scratched from Saturday's game at the last second (forcing customers to watch Mark DeRosa in the 3-hole) with right shoulder tightness - though this is not the same shoulder that hampered Zimmerman in 2008. The release during the game said that Zimmerman wasn't concerned and that he should be fine to play Tuesday. Well, last night was Tuesday and instead of Nationals fans watching Zimmerman man 3rd until the wee hours of the morning, everyone was waiting for the results of Zimmerman's MRI (while watching DeRosa hit 3rd again).

That's 4 players who went from simply day-to-day style injuries to 3 players missing significant time and 1 player waiting on the results of an MRI.

There have been serious miscalculations with all of these (and more) injuries from the Nationals training staff. Something has got to give.

How long do you think Zimmerman will be out? Sound off in the comments!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 17

This week's Nats Talk On The Go episode is full of positive stuff, including lots of wins, a continuously impressive pitching staff, and some surprisingly impressive offensive numbers from a few key players. Unfortunately, we also have to talk about the offensive reality of an inability to drive in runs and the continued effect of injuries on the team. If you can't stream it below, subscribe on iTunes or download it here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

More Fun With Pitching Prowess

As we have talked about on this blog last week and in the latest edition of Nats Talk on the Go (available on iTunes!), this Nationals pitching staff is really good at their jobs. And it doesn't just extend to starters, but more on that in a little bit.

Anyone that has been here for a while knows that I am a huge stat fiend, in that I love finding obscure stats that either tell a story or don't mean a hill of beans. It's fun. And this is one of those blog entries.

So sit tight and enjoy the ride.

Let's start with something that we discussed last week, Bill James Game Score. Everyone here knows Bill James (at least pretends to) as the stat guru behind Moneyball; the book, not the incredible Aaron Sorkin film.

Here is the basic formula:
  1. Start with 50 points.
  2. Add 1 point for every out recorded.
  3. Add 2 points for every inning completed after the 4th.
  4. Add 1 point for each strikeout.
  5. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed.
  6. Subtract 4 points for every earned run allowed.
  7. Subtract 2 points for every unearned run allowed.
  8. Subtract 1 point for every walk.
  9. Done.
That's it. Pretty simple stuff. All told, the highest possible (9 inning) game score would be a 114 - with Kerry Wood's 20 Strikeout game in 1998 being the closest for a 9 inning game at 105.

Now that all of that nonsense is out of the way, let's see how the Nationals Starters fare on the National League Leaderboard so far (Top 50 Performances - there are some ties):
#2 - Edwin Jackson - 4/14 vs. Reds - 87
#9 - Gio Gonzalez - 4/12 vs. Reds - 80
#10 - Gio Gonzalez - 4/17 vs. Astros - 79
#17 - Stephen Strasburg - 4/11 vs. Mets - 74
#31 - Ross Detwiler - 4/10 vs. Mets - 68
#31 - Jordan Zimmermann - 4/13 vs. Reds - 68
#31 - Jordan Zimmermann - 4/18 vs. Houston - 68
#35 - Stephen Strasburg - 4/5 vs. Cubs - 67

For those of you scoring at home, that is 8 Nationals performances on the Top 50 Pitching Performances so far. Eight. The next closest team is the Phillies, with 5 after Cliff Lee's 10 Inning masterpiece last night.

We aren't done yet though.

Let's take a look at WAR so far in 2012.

Your National League Leader in Pitching WAR? Gio Gonzalez with 0.8. So far that is a .267 WAR/start - averaged out to a full season? 8.5+

Who is second on the National League Pitchig WAR Leaderboard? Stephen Strasburg with 0.7.

Jordan Zimmermann, not to be outdone, spun a terrific start and now places 5th in the NL in WAR - right behind Gio and Strassy with a 0.6.

Not to be left out in the cold, there a few relievers that want to be invited to the party.

Craig Stammen is currently tied for 3rd in WAR (0.3) for National League Relievers, behind Aroldis Chapman and Bryan Shaw.

Tyler Clippard is right behind him, tied for 7th with a 0.2 WAR.

As a team? The Nationals Pitching WAR of 3.4 of twice that of the 2nd place teams (the Mets and Cardinals). While also leading handily in K/9, FIP, xFIP, HR/9, ERA, SIERA, and BAA (Batting Average Against).


Yes, I know that it is terribly early and it isn't very likely that Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg will post 8+ Wins Above Replacement throughout an entire season. But I have been feeling pessimistic about sports lately, due the fact that I have suffered losing for so long I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop. So this is my attempt to break through that fog through Sample Size Alert stats.

Let's just enjoy the show while it lasts!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 16

This week, we talk about the Washington Nationals' prodigious pitching and their awful offense. Well, maybe it wasn't quite as awful as you may think. We spend a lot of time both praising and criticizing Ian Desmond, and we talk about about Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth, too.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Offensive Offense and Prodigious Pitching

The hometown Nationals are off to their best start since baseball arrived in DC at 5-2. There are a ton of reasons why the Nationals are getting the job done (the Pitching Staff, LaRoche, Desmond) but there is an alarming trend that should scare the pants off of Nats fans.

The sheer lack of hitting with Runners in Scoring Position. More commonly known as RISP.

Let's take a quick gander at the Nationals effectiveness game-by-game with RISP:
- Yesterday - 3-2 win vs. Reds - 2 for 7 - LaRoche and Desmond with the hits
- April 11 - 4-0 win vs. Mets - 1 for 14 - Flores with the hit
- April 10 - 6-2 win vs. Mets - 4 for 14 - Werth (2), Bernadina, and Ramos with the hits
- April 9 - 4-3 loss vs. Mets - 2 for 9 - LaRoche with both hits
- April 8 - 4-3 loss vs. Cubs - 2 for 5 - LaRoche and Desmond with the hits
- April 7 - 7-4 win vs. Cubs - 3 for 5 - Bernadina, Tracy, and Lombardozzi with the hits
- April 6 - 2-1 win vs. Cubs - 1 for 7 - Desmond with the hit

For those of you scoring that home, that's a whopping 15 for 61 since the season started and only 7 for 35 in the past three games.

To put it another way - the Nationals BRS% (Base Runner Scoring Percentage) is 3rd worst in all of baseball with 10%. Meaning only 10% of Nationals base runners are scoring.

And while the offense struggles to get runs across the plate, the Pitching Staff is showing exactly what they are made of.

The last three starting pitching lines for the Nationals are as follows:
- Gio - 7 IP. 2 H. 0 R. 0 ER. 0 BB. 7 K. Game Score - 80
- Strasburg - 6 IP. 3 H. 0 R. 0 ER. 3 BB. 9 K. Game Score - 74
- Detwiler - 5 IP. 2 H. 0 R. 0 ER. 1 BB. 6 K. Game Score - 68

This is absolutely a case of "anything you can do, I can do better". Detwiler pitches a gem, Strasburg ups the ante and Gio ups it again by posting the 7th best MLB pitching performance of the season thus far (per Game Score).

I know that it's still early in the season (Sample Size Alert!), but if the offensive and pitching trends continue, I think we are going to be looking at a lot of 2-1 games... Get the heart meds ready...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ozzie and Castro: An Odd Couple

Sorry, but I must step outside the Natosphere for just a moment and discuss the ongoing situation with Ozzie Guillen, the Miami Marlins and Major League Baseball. In case you've missed it, Ozzie has been suspended 5 games for remarks made in adoration of the former President of Cuba. Where do I begin?

In any other MLB city would this have been almost inconsequential. In Washington, maybe it puts the heat on President Obama over Cuba. In Philly they might boo for a few days, but hey, they are going to do that anyway. Maybe in Atlanta he is run out of town for professing love for an 86 year old man. But a suspension? Can Major League Baseball really let teams suspend players or managers who make comments that some of its citizens may disagree with? Will the Nats suspend a player who says he is against statehood?

Now the Marlins argument, that he represents their organization when he acts and speaks, is disingenuous at best, and a cheap ploy to bring in Cuban fans at its worst. You do not go get Ozzie to be your manager and expect him to be a role-model for your city and team. He skipped the White House for Hugo Chavez. He used an offensive slur while describing Jay Mariotti. There is no way the Marlins did not see this sort of thing coming. And to now cry foul, is both naive and hypocritical.

Fidel Castro is 86 years old. Yes, he once stood for the Cuban Missile Crisis and big red (Read: communism) right in our back yard. But his time as a villain has come and gone.

Were Ozzie's comments a mistake, probably. But a 5 game suspension for what amounts to sympathy is crazy. And while it is not against the law, it is contrary to how things should work in a free country.

What say you Natstown?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Remember That One Time...

So, if you follow me on Twitter (@CraigMac), then you probably know exactly what is coming.

I predicted last night's Nats loss. Last July.

That's right. Last July I was frustrated. Davey Johnson had come in and made some changes that weren't so much working. One of these issues was that he had such faith in his pitchers to get the job done that he wasn't using them to their strengths - he was setting them up to fail.

Last night was an exact repeat of the scenario that had plagued HRod so many times in the past. And once again he showed that he was unable to sit in the dugout and then come back out for another inning. Granted, he was squeezed by some incredibly questionable balls and strike calls, but with his stuff that shouldn't even be the slightest of an issue. It was an unacceptable mistake.

The Nationals are going to have some growing pains as they try to nudge their ways to the pantheon of MLB Contenders and last night they lost the game because of it.

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 15

With this week's episode, the Washington Nationals regular season is officially underway, and there's quite a bit to talk about. At the top of the ledger is injuries and the issues with Drew Storen's elbow. We talk Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel, and Anthony Rendon's ankle, too. We spent a lot of time talking about Adam LaRoche's crazy start, and if you throw in some pitching talk, some offensive concerns, recaps of the first series, and some series previews, you have a full lid on this week's episode.

Question Of The Week: What were the three biggest surprises of the Nationals Opening Series vs. the Cubs? We read a few listener responses, too.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Number One With A Bullet

Opening Day had all the pomp and excitement that was to be expected after a flurry of offseason moves changed the landscape of the Nationals franchise. Even better, the Nationals were able to eek out a 2-1 victory despite an embarrassing performance by the team's offense.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights and lowlights of yesterday's opening game.

- Highlight: Stephen Strasburg absolutely dominated the Cubs through 7 innings while only throwing 82 pitches (58 for strikes). He only gave up the 1 run and struck out 5 baby bears.

- Lowlight: Nationals bats were atrocious against Ryan Dempster. Dempster threw 7.2 innings and only allowed 2 hits. Ouch.

- Highlight: Ian Desmond. His offensive performance today was fantastic, flat out. He got 3 of the team's 4 hits, in addition to a reach on error. Oh yea, and he stole a base at a crucial moment to get in scoring position with two outs for Ryan Zimmerman.

- Lowlight: Defense. Though the official box score only lists the Nationals as having just one error, they suffered in the field far worse than that. In the early innings the infield decided to let a pop up fall instead of, you know, catching it. Desmond had a throw that pulled LaRoche off of 1st, but it was somehow ruled a hit. And then there was the Espinosa bobble in the late innings for the Nats only official error (though was, somehow, initially ruled a hit).

- Highlight: The Nationals, with two runs, have more runs than any other team in the NL East. And yes, the Marlins have played two games...

- Lowlight: LaRoche looked completely lost against the Left Handed Dempster, striking out 3 times in his 3 at-bats. Maybe Davey's platoon wasn't the worst idea in the world...

- Highlight: Ryan Zimmerman sure is hitting the ball on the screws right now. He had two bombs that would have been long gone on a warmer day that instead were long outs. Not to be outdone, Bernadina also got a piece of one that almost went out.

- Lowlight: 5 runners LOB (4 in scoring position) in the first three innings is completely unacceptable for the 3-4-5 hitters.

- Highlight: Brad Lidge getting the save with 2 strikeouts in his first appearance in a Nationals uniform.

- Lowlight: Mark DeRosa losing his batting eye, going 0 for 4 on just 13 pitches - a far cry from the .587 OBP he put up this spring.

- Highlight: Nats win 2-1.

What are your highlights and lowlights of the first game of the season? Post them in comments!!!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

2012 Predictions

Its Opening Day. Feel free to say that out loud at frequent intervals with no provocation for a while. So that means predictions. Why? Because we just can't help ourselves.

Sean's Predictions:

Wins: 90 - A first half around .500 will give way to a torrid August and September and lead the Nats into a wild card spot.

Offensive MVP - Ryan Zimmerman. He plays over 150 games and hits close to .300 with over 30 HRs and over 100 RBI.

Pitching MVP - Jordan Zimmerman. Strassy, Gio and even Ejax may have gaudier stats, but Jzimm will make close to 35 starts and have a quality start % in the 70s.

Biggest Offensive Surprise - Ian Desmond. He will hit 20 HRs and score over 100 runs.

Biggest Pitching Surprise - Edwin Jackson. Minimize his starts at Citizen's Bank and he will be golden.

Biggest Offensive Disappointment
- Hate to say this, but Michael Morse. He will fall alittle further back to earth. But a healthy Zim, LaRoche and a bounce back year for Werth will help the offense along.

Biggest Pitching Disappointment - Chien Ming Wang. I firmly believe he is made of candy-glass and will never throw any substantial innings again.

Best Moment - I want to say when the Nats clinch a wild card spot. But really it will be the first time Wilson Ramos comes to bat in the home opener. I will not forget the shock and unease I felt during those days in winter.

Nationals All-Stars - Ryan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg, Drew Storen

Teddy Wins - 0

Player Games lost to the DL - Lots

Prop-Bets - Davey Johnson ejections 2, Zim walkoffs 1, Ian Desmond errors 17, Jayson Werth beard alignments 7, Strassy's last start August 24

Craig's Predictions:
Wins - 86 - I think that injuries are going to be a huge concern throughout the year and that the offense struggles to catch up to the pitching staff.

Offensive MVP - Ryan Zimmerman. It's going to be a 90+ RBI season with a .300 average without a lot of support in the lineup.

Pitching MVP - Gio Gonzalez. He is going to win 15 games and completely dominate the NL.

Biggest Offensive Surprise - Adam LaRoche. He will bounce back from his injury filled 2011 and hit 20 bombs and drive in 70+ runs.

Biggest Pitching Surprise - Craig Stammen. He will have the best ERA and WHIP on the team.

Biggest Offensive Disappointment - Michael Morse. There is simply no way that he will be able to produce like he did last year.

Biggest Pitching Disappointment - Tyler Clippard. He will deal with some injuries due to over-use in the past two seasons, struggling whenever healthy.

Best Moment - Without a doubt Wilson Ramos. This is now Ramos playing with House Money and it will be fantastic to watch him soak in everything for the rest of his career.

Nationals All-Stars - Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez.

Teddy Wins - 0

Player games lost to the DL - Hundreds.

Prop Bets - Davey Johnson Ejections 3, Zimmerman Walk-offs 1, Ian Desmond Errors 21, Werth Beard Alignments 3, Strassy's Last Start August 11, Harper's 1st game June 17

Well, we are on the record. How about you join us and post your predictions in the comments section!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cold-Blooded Nationals

Yesterday the Nats optioned John Lannan to triple-A. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post used the phrase "cold-blooded". To me its far more than that.

This move is an important one for the Nationals organization. It signals an important shift in focus, from perennial underdog to consistent contender. Yes, the Nats are at a point in their existence where the personnel decisions are made strictly based on the on-the-field product. Gone are the days of "Mike Bascik, he's such a nice guy, great story, glad he's on our team" and in are the times where the most reliable Nats starter in history is optioned to Syracuse. It's encouraging to future fans of the team and means that the building of a rotation by cattle call is a thing of the past.

But none of that makes this alright with me. John Lannan is a wonderful person and very good pitcher. Let's look at the stats: 751 innings pitched in 128 starts, basically 6 innings per start, an ERA right at 4.00 and has a career WAR over 7 in 5 seasons, all the while costing a total just north of 3.5 million dollars (not a year...for his whole time in a Nats uni). He has been the stalwart of the rotation and endured the humiliation that was the Nats run-support and defense. To demote him to triple-A and tell him in the middle of the last exhibition game is so outside the realm of decent that there are no words.

This was an inevitable step in the progression towards being a keystone franchise. It makes the on-field product better, or at least gives it more potential. And Lannan at Syracuse is a nice insurance policy. That does not excuse this. John Lannan deserved better of the Nationals. Be it through trade or outright release, he is a Major League pitcher and the ignominy of being sent to triple-A is outrageous. The lack of decency and loyalty will not soon be forgotten by Lannan. Or me.

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 14

In this week's episode, Joe and Craig have their first guest, Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation. Brett provides great insight on the state of the Chicago Cubs, who the Washington Nationals are playing on Opening Day, and is an all around cool guy. Besides that, a few other pretty interesting things happened for the Nationals in the past week: John Lannan was demoted, Ross Detwiler was added to the rotation, more injury stuff, the bullpen, and spring training surprises, followed by the official end to spring training.

Subscribe to and rate our podcast on iTunes! If you don't use iTunes, you can stream it below or download it here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Former Nats Greats: NL East Edition

That's right. We are bringing it back. Get ready for a whole new string of Former Nats Greats. This segment will run throughout the season, depending on when I find a specific player inspiring. If you are joining us for the first time, this is a place where we can celebrate the best of the worst that has graced the fields of DC baseball (Nationals-Era); think Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, etc.

Today we are jumping right in with a piece on the Former Nats Greats that will be suiting up for the Nationals NL East opponents against your Washington Nationals. Let us venture onward.

Philadelphia Phillies
Laynce Nix - Nix is a player that no one saw coming in 2011, us especially. It was a shock to learn that Nix was given a spot on the 2011 Opening Day roster, but he came in and did exactly what the team needed of him. He put up a solid .451 Slugging % while launching 16 HR in just 351 At-Bats. He signed a 2-year contract with the Phillies this offseason.

Pete Orr - Pete Orr was never very valuable in the Curly W, registering a -0.4 WAR over his two years with the ballclub (2008-09). A stereo-typical utility player, he was able to play 6 different positions in DC. Don't expect him to remain with the Phillies too long, as he will most likely be gone once injured players return.

Brian Schneider - The man that caught the first pitch of a United States President and the first pitch in Nationals history. He has been playing with Philly for a few years now, after a brief stop in New York. Schneider was one of the best Nationals in that magical 2005 season (2.9 WAR), but his value dropped precipitously after that (1.7 the next two years combined).

New York Mets
Jon Rauch - Rauch, one of the tallest players in MLB history, is terrifying. He has tattoos and everything. He was a National for 2005-08, only to be traded to the Diamondbacks for a young speedster named Emilo Bonifacio; who eventually turned into Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen - pretty good deal. The Nationals surely bought low and sold high, capitalizing on 135.2 IP in '07-'08 and a 2.5 WAR in a trade that changed the landscape of the organization. Rauch hasn't had a season even close to his 2007 campaign.

Miami Marlins
Emilio Bonifacio - One of the fastest players I have ever seen. He came in with a bang but left with a whimper. His speed never was able to transfer into OBP as he registered a .305 in his 41 games with the Nats. He was then traded to the Marlins where he flourished in 2011, notching a 3.3 WAR.

Austin Kearns - Wow. Where to begin with this guy. He came over to the Nationals with All-Star SS Felipe Lopez in a blockbuster trade that changed the face of two franchises. He put up a 2.1 WAR in his first 60+ games in DC only to be given a 3-year/$16.5 Million contract extension. The first year was a huge success (3.7 WAR) and it looked like the ballclub had hit a home run. The next two years (when he was making $5 and $8 Million, respectively), Kearns registered a combined WAR of just 1.1. Ouch.

Chad Gaudin - Chad Gaudin leveraged a solid 2011 Spring Training to make the Nationals Opening Day roster only to pitch terribly for a few weeks and get himself released after a shoulder injury. His 6.48 ERA is what some people would call "unsightly". A -0.1 WAR in less than 9 IP isn't too good.

Atlanta Braves
Livan Hernandez - Up until last week the Braves were going to be clear of the Former Nats Greats stigma - but then Livo got released by the Astros and immediately picked up by the Braves. What's to say about Livan that hasn't already been said. He was and is incredibly valuable to this Franchise and its' history - he threw the first pitch, was reliable, did what was told, and served as a mentor for the young pitchers when he knew his time in DC was numbered. Hats off to the guy.

Thus concludes our look at the Former Nats Greats of the NL East - be sad that we narrowly avoided JD Martin (-0.2 Nats WAR) earning a roster spot with the Miami Marlins.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Wait, Xavier Nady?

I looked away for 7 seconds and Xavier Nady became the opening day left fielder. Yes due to injuries and injury concerns, it looks as if Xavier Nady might not only make the team but start opening day. While he is a serviceable 5th outfielder (maybe), he certainly should not be starting for the Nationals opening day. Just because he is filling in for Michael Morse, doesn't necessarily mean the Nats should be using a "lite" version in Nady (I wouldn't even call it "lite", Nady has reached Crystal Pepsi levels)

In his last 500+ at bats, spanning 2 season, Nady has racked up -14 oRAR (offensive runs above replacement player). Compare that with Roger Bernadina's 6 oRAR in over 700+ ABs the last 2 seasons and you wonder why you would sacrifice those 20 runs and a considerable amount of athleticism for Nady. The same goes with Rick Ankiel, a superb defender with an oRAR of 4 last year and a WAR over 2. With so many options this spring, why, in the last week have the Nats pivoted so hard to Nady?

What is really scary about the ball rolling down the hill so fast on Nady, is that it signals, to me, that Morse and possibly LaRoche and Ankiel are still not healthy and could miss opening day. And as Nats fans know, missing the first week can turn into the first month and then the first half very quickly. This team was paltry on offense last season, and replacing Michael Morse with Xavier Nady is not the solution.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rule V Update

Every year at the Winter Meetings there is a second draft among baseball's 30 ball-clubs, and, as opposed to the Rule IV Draft that takes place every June, this draft deals specifically with players who already have a parent organization, not amateurs. Usually, the Nats have been more than willing to take a chance on players, despite the caveat that you must keep the player on the Major League roster all season long or you have to offer the player back to his original team. Sometimes this works out pretty well and you are able to find a diamond in the rough (Jesus Flores) and sometimes you get a dud (Brian Broderick, Elvin Ramirez, Jamie Hoffmann, Terrell Young, Matthew Whitney, Levale Speigner, and Garrett Guzman).

This year, as a sign of huge growth for the Franchise, Rizzo and Co. decided not to take anyone in the Rule V (pronounced five, not "V") for the first time since 2005. However, the organization lost two players to other clubs; Erik Komatsu to the Cardinals and Brad Meyers to the Yankees. Let's take a look at their chances to make their respective clubs.

Erik Komatsu - 24 Years-old - Outfielder - Cardinals
- Came over from the Brewers in the Jerry Hairston trade last year.
- 2012 Spring Stats: .289/.340/.422. 2 2B. 2 3B. 8 RBI. 4 BB. 5 K. 5 SB.
- Chances of making the club? Strong. He is going against Shane Robinson, a 27 year-old outfielder, and Komatsu has the upper hand due to the money investment (50k) made by the ballclub. It looks like he will break camp as the Cardinals 5th Outfielder; behind Matt Holiday, John Jay, Carlos Beltran, and Playoff Hero Allen Craig.

Brad Meyers - 26 Years-old - RHP - Yankees
- Drafted by the Nationals in the 5th round of the 2007 MLB First Year Player Draft.
- 2012 Spring Stats: N/A.
- Brad Meyers hasn't appeared in any games this spring due to a Shoulder injury suffered while lifting weights this offseason.
- Expect Brad Meyers to start the season on the DL. The Yankees would be allowed to keep him on the DL for the time being.

I think both of these players have a chance to stick with their big clubs for an extended period of time, health depending. What do you think??

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Viera Superlatives

Technically, when you read this post, the 2012 MLB Regular Season will have begun as the A's and Mariners are opening the year at 6am ET in Tokyo. Naturally, ESPN is showing their 3rd or 4th SportsCenter in a row and MLBN decided to show the game on Tape Delay. Don't they know that we are all ready for game action, and that we will get up early to watch the game or listen to it on the radio while at work???

Anyway, in my mind, Spring Training is over. The Nationals battles are all but decided with only a handful of players still in limbo (Michaels/Carroll, Stammen/Gorzelanny). I feel that it is time to give out some Awards on a varitey of baseball topics - some random and some legit. Enjoy.

MVP (Position Player) - Ryan Zimmerman. He has hit .424, gotten on base at a .500 clip, and he is slugging .788. That's just not ok. Those are MLB '12 The Show numbers right there.

MVP (Pitcher) - Henry Rodriguez. His control issues have shown to be a thing of the past as he has only walked 2 in 8 innings of work. Opponents are hitting a paltry .125 against him.

Truck Dealership Award - Jayson Werth. The dude hit his truck with a homer and "left a crater". How awesome is that.

Coolest Name Award - Austin Bibens-Dirkx. He has an "X" in his last name instead of an "S".

Best Newcomer Award - Eury Perez. He has never played above High-A yet he was still able to hit .333 in limited action while providing stellar CF defense.

"Staph" Award - Corey Brown. Brown had a 2011 September call-up to forget, getting a Staph Infection after just 3 ABs. He came into Spring showing the Nats Brass that he meant business, going 7 for 22 before being demoted (way too early) to AAA Syracuse.

Free Pass (Hitter) - Mark DeRosa. Talk about patience, DeRosa has 10 walks to just 1 strikeout so far - those 10 walks are 4 more than anyone else on the roster.

Free Pass (Pitcher) - Gio Gonzalez. He leads the Nationals pitching staff with 9 walks in just 15 innings of work. McCatty needs to settle him down just a bit more.

Worst Lineup - March 10 vs. The Tigers. The lineup for this road game went as such: Bernadina - 7. Lombardozzi - 4. Espinosa - 6. Tracy - 3. Flores - DH. Teahen - 5. Brown - 9. Solano - 2. Perez - 8.

Best Box Line (Hitter) - Roger Bernadina. Just three days ago (3/25)Roger Bernadina registered this gem of a line: 3 for 3. 1 HR. 1 R. 4 RBI. BB. Stellar.

Best Box Line (Pitcher) - Stephen Strasburg. On the same day that Bernadina was putting up the Best Box Line, Strasburg matched with his own top flight performance with this line: 5 IP. 5 H. 0 R. 1 BB. 5 K.

Worst Box Line (Pitcher) - Tom Gorzelanny. On Sunday March 4th, Tom Gorzelanny gave up 7 runs in just 1 inning of work. He gave up just 3 hits, so most of the damage came from his 4 walks. Ouch.

Worst Box Line (Hitter) - Bryce Harper. The day he got demoted (3/18) Bryce Harper put up the worst box line of the Spring - saved only by a late double. He went 1 for 5 with that double while registering a Golden Sombrero (4 strikeouts) in ugly fashion.

Ian "E6" Desmond Award - Ian Desmond. Shockingly, Desi leads the team with 4 errors so far in Grapefruit league action, garnering this prestigious award.

LVP (Hitter) - Andres Blanco. Simply put, when you have as many hits in 32 At-Bats (2) as Stephen Strasburg (a pitcher, mind you) does in 4 At-Bats (2) you get this award.

LVP (Pitcher) - Tom Gorzelanny. If you listened to the latest edition of Nats Talk On The Go, you heard a few Gorze stats. I shall repeat them. Everyone on the team has a better WHIP and ERA than Gorzelanny. EVERYONE. That includes Yunesky Maya. Yet, he will go north with the big club. *Shakes head*

LVP (General) - Training Staff. Another piss-poor appearance by the Nationals training staff. So far there have been way too many injuries that have been misdiagnosed as minor; LaRoche, Morse, and Solis. Several more nagging injuries that should have been prevented; Ankiel, Harper, Storen, Burnett.

Viera Panera Award (Best Sportswriting) - Tom Boswell. If you know me, I am not a huge Boswell fan, but his "investigation" on Jayson Werth's truck smashing bomb was just pure fun. I loved it.

Those are just a few of my awards, what are yours???

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 13

In this week's episode, The Nats Blog's Joe Drugan and Capitol Baseball's Craig MacHenry talk about John Lannan's rotation spot and players getting hurt a lot. We also talk about the state of the bullpen, and Joe put out a lineup that he wasn't entirely prepared for and is now embarrassed about in the return of the Question Of The Week.

Subscribe to and rate our podcast on iTunes, right-click to download if you don't use iTunes, or stream it below.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bryce Harper, Steven Lombardozzi, and Value

This week Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson have made some headlines in regards to several young players and the future of the Nationals outfield. Bryce Harper, optioned to Triple-A Syracuse, is now slated to be their center fielder for the near future. Steven Lombardozzi, a promising middle infield prospect, will learn to play the outfield. While both moves are need based (The Nats lacking a long term CF option, Michael Morse ailing, Ryan Zimmerman, etc.) both moves also signal a shift in the player development strategy of the Nationals that I believe will improve the team this year and for many years to come.

When Syracuse takes the field for the first game of the season, Bryce Harper will be roaming centerfield and anchoring their line-up. The reason for starting Bryce in center is two-fold. Currently having only Eury Perez as an upper level prospect at the position, Mike Rizzo wants to try to make Bryce Harper the long term answer; the underlying reason is that Bryce Harper as the Nats long term centerfielder creates value for both the player and the ballclub. Positions like CF, SS, 2B are premium positions because they are difficult defensively and on most teams offense is sacrificed at at least 1, more often than not 2, of those positions. If Bryce fails to be a suitable CF option, then he is moved to a corner OF spot and is still an offensive force. If he succeeds, he locks up CF, a premium position, for 5-7 years while making prospects Perez, Brian Goodwin, Michael Taylor, and Destin Hood trade bait or fantastic back-up pieces.

Davey Johnson, when speaking about Lombardozzi getting some experience in the outfield, referenced Ben Zobrist. Rays fans and fantasy gurus alike will tell you all you need to know about this super-utility man; he can play anywhere on the field and fit anywhere on a line-up card. In 2009 he played 8 different positions if you include DH, hit nearly .300, and made all of his teammates better through regular off days. Can Lombardozzi be Ben Zobrist? That's not the question that Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson should be asking (and to their credit they likely won't). The question is can the Nats afford to gamble on this possibility?

And that answer is a resounding yes. Over the past five years Evan Longoria has been the most talented Rays player, but it is very easy to argue that Ben Zobrist is Tampa's MVP. Again, the worst that happens is that Lombo can't play outfield and he returns to the infield, where he provides the club with stellar defense.

What these moves, along with the decision to play Anthony Rendon at SS and 2nd in addition to 3rd, signal is that the Nats have shifted their player development philosophy. By starting a player at a premium position and moving him should he fail, the Nats can create value. Simply put, offense is easy to find at corner OF spots and first base. But by developing players up the middle, having them learn the premium positions, you create more skill, more value, and a more talented organization.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Quilted Quicker Picker Upper

Please forgive the title.

Yesterday the NFL made headlines (what else is new...) when their looney Commissioner, Roger Goodell, decided to unleash punish the city of New Orleans with a fury not seen since Hurricane Katrina. The team lost their next two first round picks, $500 G's, and their head coach was suspended (without pay) for the entire season in response to a bounty-system that saw Saints players get rewarded monetarily for injuring other players. In addition to cementing their reputation as the No Fun League, the NFL decided to make an example of the Saints for something that I guarantee every single team in the league does.

Enough NFL talk, I think I'm gonna be sick...

This is a pretty easy topic to relate back to other sports, especially with the MLB and the NHL. Anyone that follows the NHL would have seen that the Rangers and Devils made headlines (not really, the NFL had them all - PEYTON MANNING!!!) when they started off their game with a three simultaneous fights, starting a debate on the merits of "staged fighting" or planned fights - one could argue that this was a planned attempt to "injure" an opponent.

Being a baseball blog, let's bring it back home a bit - shall we?

In baseball there are plenty of ways to get around the rules in an attempt to injure a player - some of them even occurring multiple times a game.

Example 1: Runner on first, less than 2 outs. The batter hits a sharp ground ball to the Second Baseman who flips it to the Shortstop. What does the runner do? He tries to take out the Shortstop - opening up the opportunity for him to land on his head, twist his knee, or get a pair of cleats where the sun don't shine. It's legal and encouraged by coaches, regardless of the outcome.

Example 2: Runner on third, less than 2 outs. The batter hits a shallow fly ball to the outfield and the runner tags from third base. The Catcher tries to block the plate but gets bowled over (Read: Buster Posey). Yes, the runner is just trying to score and he will stop at nothing to achieve his goal of scoring that run. Everyone in baseball outside of San Francisco had no problem with Scott Cousins destroying Buster Posey (and his knee). Cousins was definitely trying to hurt Posey enough to have the ball get jarred loose, does that count as intent to injure?

Example 3: The most classic example of all. Beanball. It is a tradition as old as baseball itself. You hit my guy, I hit yours. 99% of the time this is done with a breaking ball or easy fastball right between the numbers, but sometimes a pitcher gets a little wild and goes head hunting (Nolan Ryan did it once or fifteen times). Sometimes, after warnings from the umpire, the beanball will continue and both the pitcher and manager will be suspended for a game - regardless of whether the pitcher/manager admits that the pitches were intentional.

Example 3 is the closest example of "intentionally attempting to injure" others as Sean Payton is accused of, but still is a far cry from any baseball examples. The fact of the matter is that all those plays in question can result in injuries, but we have never seen an example of a player intentionally attempting to injure someone as you probably see on every single NFL team at some point.

All this really proves is that we have now found the 638th reason that the MLB is classier than the NFL - MLB players respect each other.